The first bullet went through, but the second one is still in there. I can feel it up under my ribs, like a petulant five year old slamming a door and screaming, “I won’t come out!”
I don’t know if they thought I was already dead or if they knew I would be soon enough, but the Russell brothers took off and those tail lights have faded away. It’s just me now. Help is not on the way.
I could drive somewhere, but that fireball over there? That’s my car painting the two a.m. night sky a burnt orange. Shoot me, fine, but what the hell did my car ever do to you?
I would have thought there would be people on the street, even this late. In the city, it seems like there’s always someone around. This neighborhood, though, those gunshots would have sent everyone ducking for cover and pulling the curtains tight, maybe throwing that extra deadbolt. Somehow I’ve got to make it from flat on my back, twin leaks in my gut and no way to stop the bleeding, and get my ass to a hospital. Closest one is, shit, at least twenty blocks away.
Best get moving.
This might have to be an on-all-fours kind of journey. One hand on my stomach, less to staunch the blood flow than to keep my guts in, and one hand on the dirty sidewalk. Fucking place is a minefield. Chewed gum, bits of green glass, smears of old dog shit. Fuck m– hey, a quarter.
I try to stand, end up walking a half dozen paces like an extra in Dawn Of The Dead. Not a featured extra neither. One of the really messed up background players, like with one leg missing or a length of pipe still sticking out of their spine.
I drop down to all fours again, grateful for the cold stability of the city sidewalk. Both hands down now, one planting deep red handprints in a trail up 34th.
A car drives by. Didn’t hear it until too late. I doubt anyone would have seen me down here with the piss and McDonalds wrappers anyhow.
Cold out. Maybe it’s just the slab of pavement draining my body heat through my knees and palms. Somehow I’ve made it to the end of the block. I can still see the fireball behind me. I think for a second of crawling back there if only for the warmth. Eventually a fire truck would show up, right? Eventually can be a long time.
I pull myself up on a lamp post. My bloody hand slips on a flyer for a lost cat, only one of the phone number tabs torn off. I look up at the street signs, try to get my bearings. I spot a cab a block away moving my way. Score.
I lean out, keeping my blood hand on the lamp post otherwise I’d be face down in the gutter. I lift my hand to wave down the taxi. My palm is nearly black from only a half block of crawling. This city is fucking disgusting.
The cab slows and I think I’ve found Jesus. I lean out from the lamp post, an insane asylum grin plastered my face. The cab driver sees me.
“No drunks,” he says and hits the gas.
“Wait! I’m not fucking dr–” I tip forward into the street. I can still smell his exhaust as my face hits the cement. For a split second, the two holes in my gut take a backseat to the pain in my mouth.
I flip myself over and spit two teeth out. They teeter near a storm drain and I wonder if I should go fetch them and try to plug the holes in my abdomen. Nah, they’re front teeth, not molars. Too small for the caliber of gun Ricky Russell used on me.
If I make it to a hospital they’re gonna want to know why I got shot. That’s a long damn story and I’m not keen to tell it. Let them figure it out. I’ll fake being too out of it to speak, which isn’t really faking at this point.
I manage to get myself back to the sanctuary of the sidewalk before a delivery truck runs my ass over or something. Time to cross the street.
I stand up again, latched onto the lamp post. When the little red hand turns to a green walking man I let go. What I do across the intersection can’t be called walking. More like tripping for twenty yards. Or falling down a flight of stairs, when there’s no stairs there.
I hit the curb on the far side and pitch forward again. A tooth on the top row that felt a little wobbly after I kissed the gutter, pops loose now and I nearly swallow it. I spit the tooth out and a gob of bloody saliva comes with it. Wish I could lose this bullet in my gut as easily as I lose teeth.
I’m flat on my belly. My feet have gone ice cold and a little numb, so have my hands. The only part of me that’s warm is my belly pressed flat on the sidewalk and soaking in a warm bath of my own blood.
I do a pushup with my hands and notice a rubber stamp imprint of my midsection rendered in O positive.
How many more blocks to go? Fuck me.
I hear a door open. Oh, thank Christ.
Off to my right, coming up the steps from a basement apartment, is an older Chinese lady with a toy poodle at the end of leash. She’s wearing a housecoat and holding an as-yet empty plastic bag in her hand. Gotta love dog owners – any time, day or night.
I reach out my bloody hand to her and mutter something like, “Please, help me.” I doubt it came out that clear.
She jumps back and puts a hand up to her collar, tightening up the housecoat as if I might want to jump up to two feet, ignore the two bullets that paid me a visit tonight, and get my rape on. The nerve on that old bitch.
After she says something appropriately shocked in her native tongue, she takes a closer look. I’m obviously a victim here. The details of how I got shot aren’t relevant to her, only that I need help. And fucking soon.
I try to explain through the stone barrier of our uncommon language. I use words I think everyone should know like hospital, ambulance, and don’t let me die in the street. She creeps ever closer to me, the dog tugging at the end of the leash wanting like hell to get to me and see what the fuck is going on. I wish she had half the urgency of that ugly fucking mutt.
She takes a cell phone out of her housecoat pocket. That’s gotta be a good sign. She raises someone and starts speaking rapid-fire and angry sounding Chinese to whoever is on the other end of the line. While she speaks I can do nothing but lay crumpled on the sidewalk and continue to lose blood. She scans her street up and down, I assume looking for my shooter. She’s shit out of luck on that score.
Lucky for her. The Russell brothers wouldn’t blink at putting a bullet between the eyes of a nosy Chinese lady and her scrawny-ass dog.
Speaking of the dog, the little fucker is licking my wound. I’m trying to alert her to the fact that her mutt is tasting me like I’m what’s for dinner, but she is fully engrossed in her conversation. I wish I could understand a goddamn word she was saying so I would know if she was trying to help me or just discussing the latest episode of Housewives of Fuckville or whatever.
The damn dog is lapping it up. I have the strength to push him away a few times, but not the will to compete against a wiry hound with a recently discovered taste for human blood. Every time I push, he keeps coming back at me, his muzzle growing darker red each time I give him a shove and see his face come away from my abdomen.
Finally she hangs up, looks down and sees the dog, gives the leash a tug, and then talks to me in Chinese. She seems like she’s giving instructions of some sort. I hope she gave directions to the ambulance in fucking English, and I tell her as much.
As soon as I swear at her, I regret it. She didn’t do this to me. The Russell brothers did, and really, didn’t I do it to myself?
She bends down and starts to try to drag me off the sidewalk toward her place. Hopefully to wait until the ambulance arrives.
It’s an awkward affair. I’m too weak to be much help at all. She’s got my feet, dragging me along at a snail’s pace, while the dog is bouncing around, covered in my blood, and looking to get another taste.
She keeps chastising the dog in Chinese, but the dog seems to understand her about as well as I do. Or he just doesn’t give a fuck.
I don’t know why, but I start talking. I tell her everything. The fact she can’t understand me helps a bit. It feels good to get it off my chest at least. I tell her about the doomed-from-the-start business venture I entered into with the Russell brothers. How I should have known it would all go south. How I tried to hide the facts when it did. And how I came to be under a bridge with both brothers and me without a gun.
In the distance I hear a siren.
We’ve reached the top of her steps and she’s barking at me in Chinese again. I’m sure she wants my help to get down the steps. “Just leave me here,” I say. “Why make the ambulance guys bring me out of your basement apartment when they can just grab me off the sidewalk?” The words all come out in a slur. Even if she spoke English she might not have gotten any of that.
Then she’s falling. I guess I didn’t do enough to help. The lady has pitched over backward and is heading down the steps head first. Her dog is lifted off the ground by the leash and it goes sailing over me, the bloody muzzle looking down at me with a very confused expression.
I hear a sickening slap and then I’m sliding. I was close enough to the edge, I guess, and I slip down the stone steps like it’s winter time in New England and I’m trying out my trusty sled.
I slide in next to the old lady, my head tapping her door. She’s got a shocked look on her face, but it’s frozen there. The smell of the blood leaking from her is different than mine. Hers is more fresh.
I’m almost nose to nose with her and it takes me a second to notice her shoulders are pointed the other way. Why is it someone like her, who was just trying to help, gets killed in an instant while I have to suffer in agony for god knows how long?
I hear whimpering. The little dog crawls out from behind the lady. It looks dazed, but catches sight of me and is energized.
The sirens are almost on us now and the dog scrambles over his owner and noses into my gut wound again. I try to move my arms to shoo the damn thing away, but I’m either pinned at a funny angle or my arms don’t work any more. Hard to tell.
I try to give it a, “Hey! Go away!” but nothing more than a squeak comes out. A leaky bike tire hiss and nothing you could call actual words.
The siren comes and goes, zipping past and never slowing down. Great.
I hear voices above. Residents poking around. Someone says something about a fire. So it was a fire truck. I have no idea if the old woman even called an ambulance or not.
I try to yell for help, but the air is almost all the way out of this tire.
Goddamn dog won’t let up. There’s no where for me to look. I’ve got this dead woman inches from my face or the view of my guts being eaten out by a crazed poodle. Which is worse?
When I first slid down here, the lady was freshly dead, or maybe not even yet. Now she’s settling into the idea. The skin on her face is starting to slacken, her tongue swells out of her mouth and hangs there.
Ow, fuck! The dog has taken to biting and little nips, not satisfied with only licking anymore. Damn, will he ever be the same? How to you adopt out a dog with a taste for human flesh?
Oh well, not gonna be my problem. I have a feeling all my problems are over really fucking soon.
Eric Beetner is the author of Dig Two Graves, Split Decision, A Mouth Full of Blood and co-author with JB Kohl of One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. His award-winning short stories have appeared in the anthologies Pulp Ink, D*cked, Grimm Tales, Discount Noir, Off The Record, Murder In The Wind and The Million Writers Award: Best new online Voices. For more info, free stories and random thoughts visit ericbeetner.blogspot.com